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Hurricane Katrina Timeline

August 2008

16 September 2005

This is an evolving timeline of of events leading up to and following Hurricane Katrina's landfall on the Gulf Coast of the US in August 2005. Focus is on government actions and political decisions.
If you have additions or corrections to this Hurricane Katrina Timeline, please send e-mail to uspolitics@aboutguide.com. Include the word 'timeline' in the subject and please provide substantiating links to news or government reports which confirm details.
The timeline is divided into these parts:

Before Landfall - Through 28 August 2005

2000 - 2005
Published reports of vulnerability

23-27 June 2002
The New Orleans Times-Picayune produces a five-part series examining what would happen to the city should a major hurricane strike.

23 July 2004
FEMA concludes a planning exercise surrounding a Category 3 Hurricane named Pam. The Baton Rouge vendor that organized the exercise received a $500,000 contract.

18 July 2005
US News reports: "If a hurricane comes next month," says Ivor van Heerden, director of Louisiana State University's Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes, "New Orleans could no longer exist."

Wednesday 24 August 2005
  • 11.00 AM EDT: Katrina Named
    NOAA renames "tropical depression 12" to "tropical storm Katrina".

Thursday 25 August 2005 - 4 days before
5.00 PM EDT : Katrina Upgraded to Hurricane
NOAA issues a hurricane warning for southeast Florida coast; first instance of Katrina being referenced as a hurricane.

6.30 PM EDT: Katrina Makes Landfall in Florida
USA Today reports that Hurricane Katrina made landfall between Miami and Fort Lauderdale with sustained winds of 80 mph. Four people were reported killed by the storm. About 1 million Floridians without power; the major concern is flooding.

11.00 PM EDT: Katrina Moves Across Florida; Projected to Hit Panhandle
From NOAA ... the eye of the hurricane moves southwestward across Miami-Dade County; Katrina is a Category 1 Hurricane, the least intense. The projected path has the hurricane hitting the Florida panhandle. The government projection model breaks down regarding what might happen next; the "more reliable" model, in hindsight, falls apart. (Ellipses are quoted material):
Beyond three days...when Katrina is forecast to be in the eastern Gulf of Mexico...the models diverge significantly...suggesting tracks which cover the coast from Mississippi eastward. The official forecast turns Katrina northward over the eastern Gulf of Mexico ahead of a strong approaching trough...on a track which is very close to the global model consensus. This forecast is rather difficult since one of the more reliable models...the GFS...shows that the cyclone barely touches the east coast of florida before moving northward....while the outstanding GFDL moves Katrina south of due west across extreme South Florida and the Keys as a very intense hurricane.

Friday 26 August 2005 - 3 days before
11.00 AM EDT: Katrina Projected to Grow to Cat2
NOAA reports that Hurricane Katrina is strengthening and projects that it will become a Category Two hurricane by Saturday. Hurricane force winds extend 25 miles from the eye of the storm, almost double the radius Wednesday. Projected landfall remains the Florida panhandle.

5.00 PM EDT: Katrina Projected to Grow to Cat3
NOAA revises its forecast, stating that Hurriccane Katrina will be a major Category Three hurricane Friday or Saturday. Hurricane force winds now extend 25 miles from the center, twice the scope of the hurricane when it first made landfall. For the first time, the projected landfall is west of the Florida panhandle, just west of the Mississippi-Alabama state line.

Government Actions:

Saturday 27 August 2005 - 2 days before
4.00 AM CDT: Landfall Projection Changes to New Orleans
NOAA declares that Hurricane Katrina is now a Category Three "major hurricane with 115 mph winds." Hurricane force winds now extend 40 miles from the center of the storm. The projected landfall is now New Orleans; yet residents went to bed thinking the hurricane would hit the Panhandle. Forecast: storm surge flooding 2-4 feet above normal tide levels.

8.00 AM CDT: Hurricane Watch for Louisiana
NOAA announces a hurricane watch for southeast Louisiana.

4.00 PM CDT: Contraflow Plan
Louisiana state police activate the state contraflow plan "allowing traffic to use both sides of Interstates 55, 59 and 10 to evacuate New Orleans to the north, east and west."

10.00 PM CDT: Hurricane Warning for Gulf Coast
NOAA declares a hurricane warning for the north central Gulf Coast; a hurricane warning means hurricane conditions are expected within 24 hours. Maximum sustained winds remain at 115 mph. Forecast: storm surge flooding 15-20 feet above normal tide levels and locally as high as 25 feet.

News Reports
  • The Associated Press reports that New Orleans could become "a vast cesspool tainted with toxic chemicals, human waste and even coffins released from the city's legendary cemeteries."

    "The storm threatened an environmental disaster of biblical proportions , one that could leave more than 1 million people homeless," the AP says. (FactCheck.orgO

Government Actions:
  • Governor Blanco asks President Bush to declare a state of emergency.
  • President Bush declares a state of emergency in Louisiana. "FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency."
  • Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi request additional assistance from the Pentagon. Pentagon moves headquarters of Joint Task Force Katrina to Mississippi.
  • Governor Blanco asks citizens to evacuate if they have not yet done so.
  • FEMA Chief Brown tells New Orleans: "There's still time to take action now, but you must be prepared and take shelter and other emergency precautions immediately."
  • Local officials in Louisiana call for voluntary or mandatory evacuations, including New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, at 5 pm. (Times-Picayune)
  • Tulane University cancels student orientation and advises students to evacuate. (Times-Picayune)
  • National Hurricane Center head Max Mayfield calls state and local officials to impress upon them the severity of the storm. He advises New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin to call a mandatory evacuation. (Seattle Times and Boston Globe)

Sunday 28 August 2005 - 1 day before
1.00 AM CDT: Katrina Upgraded to Cat4
NOAA upgrades Hurricane Katrina to a Category Four hurricane, with sustained winds of 145 mph. Hurricane force winds now extend 70 miles from the eye. Forecast: storm surge flooding 15-20 feet above normal tide levels and locally as high as 25 feet.

7.00 AM CDT: Katrina Upgraded to Cat5
NOAA announces that Hurricane Katrina is now a "potentially catastrophic" Category Five hurricane. Southeast Louisiana remains the projected landfall, with a 29 percent probability of the eye passing within 65 nautical miles of New Orleans.

8.00 AM CDT: Superdome Opens
The Superdome opens as a special-needs shelter. The Regional Transit Authority deploys 10 buses equipped with a special lift to help handicapped residents get to the Superdome.

10.00 AM CDT: NOLA: Mandatory Evacuation
Mayor Nagin orders mandatory evacuation, the first in the history of the city. "We are facing a storm that most of us have feared. I don't want to create panic, but I do want the citizens to understand that this is very serious, and it is of the highest nature." (CNN)

10.11 AM CDT: "Devastating Damage" Projected
NOAA's National Weather Service issues an urgent weather message enumerating the "devastating damage" expected from Hurricane Katrina. "Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks, perhaps longer... At least one-half of well-constructed homes will have roof and wall failure... Water shortages will make human suffering incredible by modern standards."

11.00 AM CDT: FEMA Chief Brown Arrives in Baton Rouge.

11.31 AM CDT: President on Katrina, Iraqi Constitution
Speaking from his ranch in Crawford, TX, President Bush speaks briefly about Katrina and mostly about the draft Iraqi Constitution:
    This morning I spoke with FEMA Undersecretary Mike Brown and emergency management teams not only at the federal level but at the state level about the -- Hurricane Katrina... We will do everything in our power to help the people in the communities affected by this storm... I urge all citizens to put their own safety and the safety of their families first by moving to safe ground.

4.00 PM CDT: Katrina Projected to Hit As Cat5
NOAA reports that Hurricane Katrina is now moving at 13 mph with sustained winds of 165 mph and projects landfall at Category Four or Five. Hurricane force winds now extend 105 miles from the eye of the storm, almost a factor of ten larger than when the hurricane made landfall in Florida. Forecast: storm surge flooding 18-20 feet above normal tide levels and locally as high as 28 feet.

8.30 PM CDT - Amtrack spokesman says it offered the city room for several hundred evacuees. The mayor denies being contacted with the offer.

Government Actions:
  • President Bush declares a state of emergency in Alabama and Mississippi and names Florida as a disaster area. He urges citizens to evacuate. The emergency declaration does not cover Jefferson Parish or New Orleans (Orleans Parish).
  • Mississippi Civil Defense Director Joe Spraggins orders a mandatory evacuation of Biloxi.
  • National Hurricane Center head Max Mayfield briefs Homeland Security and FEMA officials on the storm, including the possibility of having levees breached. (Editor & Publisher)
  • Louisiana National Guard asks FEMA for 400 buses for evacuation; they receive 100. (Boston Globe)
  • Various governors volunteer National Guard units to help Louisiana, which has 40 percent of its Guard deployed in Iraq. Blanco says "yes" to the requests. However, Washington must approve the deployment, which it could not do because Blanco had not asked Washington for the deployment. (Boston Globe)
  • Coast Guard Admiral Robert Duncan, head of the Eighth District in New Orleans, dispersed assets before the storm (not clear if it was Saturday or Sunday) and requested additional forces from the commander of the Coast Guard's Eastern Area. (Boston Globe)

  • Delta and United Airlines suspend flights. (Times-Picayune).
  • Regional Transit Authority buses ferry people to the Superdome from 12 locations around the city.

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